06/12/2013 4:25PM

Emerald Downs: Pick four enhanced by crowded fields

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AUBURN, Wash. – While horsemen struggled to fill races early in the 75-day meeting at Emerald Downs, the tide has turned over the past couple of weeks. When racing resumes Friday with a seven-race card at 6:45 p.m. Pacific, the fields will include an average of 9.7 horses per race, making it one of the most intriguing betting cards of the meeting.

In the featured sixth race, a $10,000 claimer for fillies and mares at six furlongs, Touch of Elegance headlines an evenly matched field of nine, but there are wagering opportunities up and down the card. In the early pick four, for example, the fields are stacked with nine, 10, 12, and 9 horses – nearly 10,000 possible pick four outcomes.

Touch of Elegance has been a popular wagering vehicle at Emerald over the years, winning 12 of her 26 local starts. In her best season, 2011, Touch of Elegance won 7 times in 8 starts and was named claimer of the meeting. The 6-year-old mare has changed hands three times over the past two years and will make her second start for Larry Ross on Friday. Javier Matias has the riding assignment.

Touch of Elegance has started twice this year. She was claimed for $15,000 out of her first start April 28, when she finished a distant third behind Seventyprcentcocoa, and then raced evenly to finish fourth in another $15,000 claimer May 7. Touch of Elegance is at her best on the lead and could enjoy moderate early fractions Friday. In her last start, Touch of Elegance couldn’t keep up with the winner, River of Aces, who zipped through the first quarter-mile in 21.37 seconds and the half in 44.08.

Clemens Brook, second in each of her two starts at the meeting, and Jewel S., a powerful winner in her most recent outing, are among the other leading contenders. Clemens Brook seldom runs a bad race, finishing first or second in 14 of 22 starts, and should have no problem with the inside post position, her starting point in her previous two outings. Clemens Brook won from the rail last June 10, rallying from midpack to win going away, and could get a similar setup Friday for trainer David Tollett and jockey Eliska Kubinova.

Jewel S. put away a weaker group in her last start, beating $7,500 nonwinners-of-two races rivals with something left. She takes a significant class jump to meet open $10,000 claimers in her second start following an eight-month layoff. She will be ridden by Isaias Enriquez for trainer Frank Lucarelli.